By Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
The first homestand of the second half is in the books and it wasn’t pleasant for the Minnesota Twins.
The Yankees, Pirates and Mariners all took a trip through Target Field, and by the time they’d left, the Twins had gone 3-6 to bring their post-All-Star-Break record to 5-10.
The following are some notes and musings from the nine games that were just played on the Twins home turf.
Let’s dive in…
Those Damn Yankees…
The 3-game series with the Yankees started with a bang… or should I say a “boom”? Several “booms” actually.
The Twins launched a total of four homers and nine extra base hits in the opener on the way to a 10-1 trouncing of New York.
Phil Hughes back-stopped the offensive barrage with seven innings of shutout baseball for his best start of the season. And while he was glad to pitch so well, he’s still getting used to pitching against his former mates.
“It’s still a little weird. I know a lot of those guys over there,” Hughes said after the game, “I just faced them twice last year so, it’s different. You know, we don’t see these guys a lot. But I think the more important thing was that we get a win tonight because obviously we didn’t have a great road trip and you know, come back here and get this first win will hopefully give us a little momentum.”
Game 2 started well also, with Aaron Hicks and Torii Hunter (more on him below) hitting homers to stake Tommy Milone to a 5-0 lead. Milone did his part, cruising through the first six innings, giving up only one hit (a monster homer from A-Rod).
But oh how fickle the game of baseball can be. Rodriguez’s second homer of the game in the 7th helped the Yankees get within one, while the Twins struggled to even get a hit in the latter innings. Things seemed in good hands in the 9th with Glen Perkins trying for his 30th save, but it wasn’t to be.
Perk couldn’t locate his pitches and the Yankees put a 4-spot on the board to win 8-5.
“I got beat tonight because I didn’t make good pitches,” Perkins said after the blown save, “and that’s an easier pill for me to swallow [than his previous blown save in Oakland]. Doesn’t mean I’m happy about how I did, obviously, but it’s part of the game. Hopefully I get a chance tomorrow, and can go out and do a better job.”
Ominous foreshadowing? You decide…
Once again the Twins scored first in Game 3, but Kyle Gibson was dancing on the edge most of the afternoon, and the Yankees will usually make you pay when you don’t have your good stuff. Gibson blew up to the tune of 6 runs – the bulk of them coming in the 6th inning – and the Bombers cruised to a 7-2 win and a 2-1 series victory.
Torii and Kirby…
The opener with the Yankees also saw Torii Hunter’s 207th home run in a Twins uniform which tied him for sixth on the Twins all-time list with the legendary Kirby Puckett.
“It’s special, man, this is a guy, early in my career he gave me a lot,” Hunter said after the game, “and just to be mentioned – as far as the home run column – to tie him is a special day for me. I always think about him and today I’m really thinking about him. It’s emotional, but, I’ve been sitting up thinking, ‘Ah, I hit 207 home runs, I’m tied with Kirby Puckett, somebody I really looked up to and really loved.’”
That tie didn’t last long, as Hunter used a 3rd-inning bomb on Saturday night to notch homer number 208 and pass Puck for sole possession of 6th place.
Torii needs just 3 more to reach 5th and tie Bob Allison. Twelve more would get him to 4th and a tie with Tony Oliva. And 13 more would put him in a third-place tie with Justin Morneau at 221.
No More Beast in the East…
The AL East has not been kind to the Twins in recent seasons, but the tide may have turned in 2015. After New York left town, the Twins had amassed a 13-6 record against AL East teams.
They’re 2-1 vs. Tampa Bay, 5-2 against Boston, 2-1 against Toronto, 3-0 against Baltimore and 1-2 against the Yankees.
They’ll have plenty of chances to add on to those records in August as they take road trips to each of those cities, minus Boston.
The Twins would be tested again as they looked to snap out of their post-All-Star-Break funk. The good news? The Pirates, whom the Twins had swept in a 2-game set back in May, were coming to town. The bad news? Pittsburgh had gone 39-19 since that series sweep by Minnesota.
Game 1 was a wild one as the teams traded leads through the first 7 innings. Then came a roller coaster of an 8th inning.
The Pirates loaded the bases, but with two outs the Twins were in position to wriggle off the hook. Unfortunately, youngster Gregory Polanco had other ideas. He bashed a bases-clearing double and later scored on a Neil Walker single to give the Pirates a late, 4-run lead.
Minnesota, however, has proven to be nothing, if not resilient this season. In the bottom half of the 8th, the Twins strung together 5-straight 1-out hits, including doubles from Kurt Suzuki and Eduardo Escobar to plate four runs of their own and tie the game at 7 heading into the ninth.
Remember Glen Perkins foreshadowing his desire for a chance at redemption? Well Perk entered the tie game in the 9th with a chance to keep the game tied and give his club a shot at the win in the bottom half.
It was not to be, however, as Perk hung a slider to Jung Ho Kang which the Korean promptly deposited in the seats for his sixth homer of the year, leading Pittsburgh to an 8-7 win.
After the game, Perkins was understandably upset.
“I mean I didn’t locate a pitch tonight,” Perkins said, “but that doesn’t have anything to do with my confidence. It doesn’t have anything to do with how I feel. I mean, how many games did I throw in the first half, 40? And I think I threw well in like 38 or 39 of them. Bad games are going to happen. I’ve been saying that all year long. It sucks that it’s right now. It sucks that they’re lumped together. But [I] can’t do anything other than continue to go out and try to make pitches.”
The Twins had reason for optimism on Wednesday afternoon, however. Old friend Francisco Liriano was on the mound for the Bucs, and Minnesota had roughed him up to the tune of seven runs in just two innings pitched the last time they’d faced him, back on May 19th.
Liriano came into the game having fanned the most hitters in Target Field history (258). His 14 career wins in the ballpark rank third behind Brian Duensing (20) and Phil Hughes (16).
Frankie wasn’t great (10 hits, 3 runs – two earned – over 5.1IP) but he was a right sight better than Ervin Santana who went gas-can in the 6th, giving up 5 runs (3 earned) in that inning alone as the Twins fell 10-4 to get swept by the Pirates.
Mazel tov, Trevor…
After the first game of the Pittsburgh series, it was announced that the team had put third baseman Trevor Plouffe on the Paternity List and had recalled infielder Jorge Polanco from Triple-A Rochester.
Trevor and his wife Olivia welcomed their first child, Theodore Winston James Plouffe, into the world on Wednesday.
Trevor returned to the team on Saturday for the final two games of the Seattle series.
Congratulations to the Plouffe family!
The Pirates were the final Interleague opponent for the Twins this season (minus a World Series appearance, of course). The Twins were 8-12 in IL play this season, marking the sixth straight year that they were at or below .500 against the National League.
In their history, the Twins actually have the 7th-most wins in IL play with 182. They’re 182-160 against the Senior Circuit, 100-70 at home, and 82-90 on the road.
The non-waiver trade deadline came and went on Friday at 3pm Central Time.
While AL Central-leading Kansas City made big moves – adding ace Johnny Cueto and jack-of-all-trades Ben Zobrist – the Twins made just one move to bolster their bullpen, namely acquiring right-hander Kevin Jepsen from the Tampa Bay Rays for a pair of minor league pitchers.
Jepsen appeared in 46 games for Tampa this season, with a 2.81 ERA, 20 walks, 34 strikeouts and 22 Holds, which rank 3rd in the American League.
Kevin joined the team on Saturday and said he was happy to be in Minnesota.
“It’s a great city. Love coming here. Phenomenal ballpark,” Jepsen said, “Seeing the Twins this year and the whole deal, you know you have a good squad over here. So you know you’re going to a good team, so that always helps. Any time another team wants you, who’s in a hunt, is always a good deal.”
Manager Paul Molitor wouldn’t commit to a specific role for Jepsen, other than to say he wouldn’t be used before the 7th inning.
“It’s just nice to add a piece that has kind of experience and that kind of ability,” Molitor said, “I told him a little bit about how the bullpen’s been as of late – that there really hasn’t been stapled roles for people. I’ve had to kind of mix and match day to day. I’m not going to have any hesitation using him and getting big outs. Tie games, leads late, he’s that guy and we got him for that reason, so that’s where we’ll use him.”
Game 1 with the Mariners got off to a hot start as the Twins plated five runs in the first including Brian Dozier’s sixth lead-off homer of 2015. The dinger gave him 13 career lead-off round-trippers, which passed Dan Gladden’s 12 and moved Brian into sole possession of 3rd place all time with Minnesota (Jones 20, Knoblauch 14).
The Twins added four more runs on their way to a 9-5 victory over Seattle. The only real drama of the evening came from rookie Eddie Rosario who hit a home run, double and triple in his first three at bats. That put him just a single shy of the cycle – something he hadn’t accomplished since rookie ball.
But there would be no statistical anomaly (which is all the cycle really is) that evening, as Rosario flew out to center and had a line drive snared by Seattle shortstop Brad Miller in his final at bat in the 8th.
Rosario thought for sure it was going to be his cycle-clinching base hit.
“Oh yeah, oh yeah,” Rosario said, “I see it on there and ‘I got it, I got it’ but he [made] a good play. So it’s okay.”
Game 2 wasn’t nearly as kind to the Twins. Seattle pitcher Taijuan Walker recorded just the 12th 1-hitter in Mariners history as he went the distance against the Minnesota, allowing just one walk while striking out 11 Twins hitters.
Walker was possessed of a 5.03 ERA coming into the game, but he also had a 95+mph fastball and a 75mph curveball that he got over for strikes. Mix in a 90 mph splitter and he had Twins hitters guessing – and usually guessing wrong – all night long. The only guy who got one right? Miguel Sano saw one of the 5 cutters/changeups Walker threw and deposited it in the left-field seats for Minnesota’s only hit and run of the evening.
Game 3 seemed like it would be another frustrating offensive day for the Twins. Mike Montgomery held Minnesota to just 4 hits and a single run over his six innings of work. Kyle Gibson had a solid day on the mound, but Seattle touched him for a pair of runs, including another bomb by Nelson Cruz.
The Twins went into the 9th inning trailing 2-1 and facing Seattle closer Carson Smith.
Miguel Sano hit the first pitch he saw into the right field corner for a double. What followed was a morass of wild pitches and an intentional walk. Suddenly, the Twins found themselves tied, with the go-ahead run at third.
The aforementioned intentional walk was of Eddie Rosario, and it came because the Mariners thought they had a better chance of getting Kurt Suzuki out. Tough to blame them when Suzuki’s hitting .234, but there’s a funny thing about veterans – they don’t like it when you walk a guy to get to them.
“I was excited, you know. I was pumped up,” Suzuki said, “I think anybody that plays this game wants to be in that position. I kind of had an idea they were going to do that, just because of the way Rosie [Rosario] was swinging and the match-up. And I was kind of hoping, ‘Okay, this it what it’s all about. This is why you play. And this is kind of like a playoff atmosphere.’”
Suzuki lined a 3-1 pitch through the hole between short and third and walked the Twins off to a 3-2 win. It was the Twins fifth walk-off win of the season and the first one to come via something other than a home run.
Game 4 featured Hisashi Iwakuma pitching for Seattle, which didn’t bode well for Minnesota. Iwakuma came in with a 5-0 record, a 0.00 ERA, and 34 strikeouts to only 8 walks in 33.2 innings-pitched against the Twins.
Iwakuma pitched 8.2 outstanding innings versus the Twins, but made one mistake to Brian Dozier that the All-Star deposited in the left-field seats to tie the game at one after nine innings.
After a scoreless 10th, Kevin Jepsen made his Twins debut in the 11th and it was a rough one. He went to full counts against all three batters he faced, walking two of them. The Mariners ended up plating three runs in the inning on the way to a 4-1 win to split the 4-game set.
Sunady morning, the Twins announced that they’d placed starter Tommy Milone on the 15-day disabled list with what they’re calling a “mild left elbow strain”. Replacing Milone on the 25-man roster and in the rotation will be right-hander Tyler Duffey.
Duffey has started 21 games between Double-A Chattanooga (8) and Triple-A Rochester (13). He’s put together a 2.66 ERA with 30 walks and 117 strikeouts over 132 innings-pitched.
The Twins plan to start him Wednesday night in Toronto.
Minor League Player of the Week…
On Sunday, the Twins named Double-A catcher Stuart Turner as their Minor League Player of the Week. Turner was the Twins 3rd-round draft pick in 2013 out of the University of Mississippi.
Turner played in five games for the Chattanooga Lookouts, hitting 8-for-17 (.471) with a pair of doubles, a homer four RBI, six runs scored and six walks. The walks helped him to a gaudy .609 on-base percentage.
It’s been a rough go at the plate this year for Turner – even after that big week, he’s only hitting .220/.316/.316. The Twins are hoping Stuart’s offensive outburst is a sign of things to come.
The Twins are off to Toronto and Cleveland for a 7-game road trip. They next return home for a 6-game homestand starting on August 11th as Texas and Cleveland visit Target Field.